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December 7, 2004

OSSIE DAVIS and RUBY DEE Receive Prestigious 2004 Kennedy Center Honors

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the selection, by its board of trustees, of the individuals who will receive the Kennedy Center Honors of 2004. Among the recipients are the highly regarded actors and activists, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Both are long-time Equity members and union supporters.

“This year the Kennedy Center honors not the usual five but six extraordinary individuals whose unique and abundant artistry has contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world,” said Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman. “They are a film artist whose talents are astonishingly diverse; a greatly revered couple of stage and screen; a pop music icon who also composes stunning musical film and theater scores; an operatic superstar of unsurpassed artistic achievement; and one of the most influential American composers of the past four decades.” The other recipients include Warren Beatty, Elton John, Joan Sutherland and John Williams.

The 2004 Honorees were honored at a star-studded gala on Sunday, December 5, 2004 at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, attended by President and Mrs. George W. Bush. The gala will be broadcast on CBS (9 pm EDT) on Tuesday, December 21, 2004.

Ossie and Ruby received Equity’s Paul Robeson Award in 1975. They joined Actors’ Equity in 1945 and 1943 respectively. Through the years, they have been dedicated and outspoken advocates for performers, human rights and the arts.

For more information, visit: How I Got My Equity Card

Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Mrs. George W. Bush, and President Bush

Stars Pay Tribute

Sean Combs begins Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis' tribute saying, "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have given great gifts -- not just to audiences but to the generation of African-American performers, directors and writers who have traveled the road they made." Combs reveals that his respect for the pair first came from his mother and that he got a first-hand look at the couple’s special qualities when they visited him during previews of his Broadway debut in "Raisin in the Sun." "There they were to inspire me. When the door closed, that tiny beautiful woman up there (Dee) started yelling at me!" says Combs with a surprised tone that gets a laugh from the crowd. “It was like a scene out of 'Rocky' Ruby wanted me to understand how high the stakes were; that failure was not an option, that African-Americans are rarely given an opportunity to play great roles on Broadway… And, with that, Ossie and Ruby motivated me to take a leap of faith where I became Walter Lee Younger every night at 8 o'clock sharp -- and not Sean Combs…(spoken with false bravado) the recording artist, music producer, clothing designer, (more laughs), writer, director and party giver extraordinaire -- who also happened to be making his debut in a Broadway play."

Husband and wife actors Courtney B. Vance and Angela Bassett appear on stage to present their verbal homage. Bassett first notes how they've looked to Dee and Davis for "inspiration and guidance" and Vance adds that the feted pair, who have been married for 56 years, are "Artists, activists; full of elegance; never at rest." Bassett later notes, "When as an unknown, Ossie was cast opposite Ruby in a play called 'Jeb' that only ran for nine performances, Ruby grumbled, ‘They probably snatched this man from behind a mule, stuck him in a costume and cast him.'" Vance continues, "Ossie remembered it a little differently -- 'I knew, my heart knew, my soul knew, that we were in this together -- and that was that.'” Bassett adds, "They took their art to colleges, community centers, cafeterias, hospitals, union halls and prisons. Wherever they stood was their stage." Continuing to quote Davis, Vance says, "'We learned how to belong to the people for whom we worked -- mainly black people. They were the audience that never made us rich, but never let us down.'"

Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell reveals that, as a student at Howard University in 1939, Davis was present at the Lincoln Memorial when Marian Anderson, one of the first five Honorees in 1978, gave her peaceful protest concert -- at which Davis "found direction" and was greatly moved by Anderson's singing. Next, after a Howard University student offers gratitude to David and Dee for living such inspiring lives, Mitchell introduces fellow Broadway/singing sensation Audra McDonald, who revived Dee's role in "A Raisin in the Sun," for which McDonald won a Tony Award. McDonald then sings the spiritual "Let Us Break Bread Together," a slave song that was chosen by Anderson back on that fateful 1939 day at the Lincoln Memorial. Singing with McDonald is the Howard University Chorus and the Washington Chorus.

-David Lotz

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